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Top Five Facets of Guatemala

There’s a lot to Guatemala. Here are five factors that should make you fall in love with the place:

1. The Mayan Culture. Guatemala is the heart of the Mayan world. Tikal, one of the grandest of Mayan ruins, attracts thousands of visitors each year. But visitors to almost any Guatemalan town will also stumble upon Mayan culture. Their descendants have continued to preserve many of the traditions and customs. In fact, over a dozen Mayan languages are still spoken in the country today.

Mayan ruins of Yaxha, Guatemala / Christopher William Adach / Flickr / Commercial Use Allowed

2. Lake Atitlan. Lake Atitlán one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. It is a true geographical wonder, as it is not only the deepest lake in Central America, but also surrounded by three volcanoes.

Lake Atitlan / Christopher William Adach / Flickr / Commercial Use Allowed

3. The Volcanoes. Speaking of volcanoes, Guatemala has 33 of them, many of which are still active. Again, for a country of Guatemala’s size, this is an impressive feat. Four surround the area between Guatemala City and Antigua, and visitors can enjoy hiking them.

Volcano erupting, Guatemala / Pedro Santiago / Flickr / Commercial Use Allowed

4. The Markets. Central American markets are always something special to foreigners. The colors, the exotic fruits and foods, the textiles, the smells. Especially the smells. Walking past a severed pig’s head covered in flies at butcher’s stall can leave the stomach feeling queasy. But that’s all part of the experience, right? Guatemalan markets have something special, though. Part of it is the Maya influence. Most of it, actually. Many of Guatemala’s street markets have been going on since long before the Spanish arrived. There is also the price. Bargains can be had. For the real deal, check out Chichicastenango on Thursdays and Sundays.

Chichicastenango Market / Corrado Scropetta / Flickr / Commercial Use Allowed

5. The Architecture. Colonial Guatemalan cities like Antigua have some of the most stunning architecture in the region. Antigua is famous for its Spanish Baroque-style of buildings, many of which have been well-maintained throughout the years so that they still give off their original splendor. The city is also laid out in a European-style grid-like pattern, making navigation simple.

Antigua, Guatemala / Andrew Magill / Flickr / Commercial Use Allowed

Month-by-Month Guide to Guatemala (When to Come for What)

Planning on coming to Guatemala but don’t know when? Let us be your guide! This month-by-month rundown might help you nail down the best time of year for you to get on a flight.

  • January. The only official holiday during January is New Years Day, but the town of Esquipulas hosts thousands of pilgrims who show up to worship at the Basilica of the Black Christ on January 15. The seven days before the feast day itself are made up of celebrations and festivities in the town.
  • February. Early February marks the coffee harvest in the mountains of Guatemala, and rural communities come together in the town of Fraijanes to celebrate. The town takes advantage of the feast of the Virgin de Candelaria on Feb 2 and the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on Feb 4 to celebrate the coffee harvest. Kind of like killing three birds with one stone.
  • March / April. Easter is celebrated throughout the country, including a week-long schedule of festivities leading up to the holiday. Huge processions filled with Guatemala-made art fill the streets, especially in Catholic-concentrated cities. Colorful, hand woven carpets fill the processional route, as well as giant floats carrying crosses and statues of Jesus Christ. If you happen to be in Guatemala around Easter Sunday, head to the nearest city to witness one of the largest Easter celebrations in the Americas.
  • May. May 1 is Labor Day, something that Guatemalans, are very proud to celebrate. It has a political feel, and marches and parades take place.
  • June. The last day of June marks the homage to Guatemala’s army.
  • July. Held in July, the Fiesta Nacional Indígena de Guatemala is the country’s biggest and most important Mayan festival. Held in Cobán, Guatemala, the festival culminates with the Rabin Ahau pageant. Mayan women from around the country travel to Cobán to take part in the pageant, where the ‘Reina Indigena’ (Indigenous Queen) is crowned based on her looks, her ability to speak different languages, and her knowledge of traditional Mayan customs. The competition lasts around four days and comes with singing, rodeos, and parades.
  • August. The Feast of the Assumption rolls around on August 15. This is Guatemala’s patron saint’s day and the most religious festival in the country. People hold parades, communal feasts, and fairs to honor the Virgin of the Assumption.
  • September. Guatemala’s Independence Day is September 15, and it’s one of the most important holidays in the country. The whole country becomes a mecca for patriotism.
  • October. October 20 is a Guatemalan national holiday known as Revolution Day. This holiday commemorates the day Guatemalan university students and military leaders united to overthrow dictator Jorge Ubico in 1944. The day is filled with celebrations across the country ranging from singing to the setting of fireworks. The biggest celebrations are in Guatemala City, where many use the day to voice their political opinions and stage demonstrations.
  • November. Guatemala celebrates Day of the Dead on November 1. This day also correlates with the Catholic holidays All Saints Day or All Souls’ Day. Like in Mexico, the Day of the Dead marks a time when family members honor deceased relatives. But Guatemala puts an uplifting twist on a somber day: if you are in Guatemala on this day, you will see big, vibrantly-colored kites in the sky. These kites help ward off evil spirits, as well as provide a way to communicate with the deceased. Written messages are often tied to the ends of the kites’ tails.
  • December. The Festival of Saint Thomas takes place in the mountain town of Chichicastenango. People wear traditional costumes and celebrate with delicious food, folk dancing, and singing. Many wear masks as they parade down the streets, carrying portraits of Saint Thomas to the local church. Christmas is a very important holiday in Guatemala. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, La Quema del Diablo, or the Burning of the Devil, takes place. Celebrations occur all over the country, although the greatest show occurs in Antigua. People will buy papier–mâché devils to carry with them during the parade, and there are bonfires in the city streets for people to burn their unwanted possessions to cleanse their homes of the “devil.”